www.landforces.com.auThe Australian Defence Force (ADF) has been patrolling waters in Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) to help Australia’s partners detect and deter illegal fishing activity. The efforts are a part of Operation Solania, the ADF support to regional maritime security, including Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) operations.

This iteration of Operation Solania saw the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) contribute to the FFA’s first operation of 2022 – Operation Rai Balang. This operation was a major maritime surveillance patrol in collaboration with partners across Micronesia and Melanesia. ADF personnel followed all local COVID-19 measures to ensure the safety of colleagues and the communities in FSM and Palau. RAN vessel HMAS Melville conducted a contactless port visit in Pohnpei before patrolling the Exclusive Economic Zone of FSM with no personnel stepping ashore.

The ADF’s Joint Task Force 637 coordinates ADF engagement with partners across the Pacific. Joint Task Force 637 Commander, Major General Scott Winter, said the ADF’s support was a major part of its longstanding commitment to maritime security in the Pacific. “Illegal fishing activity and transnational crime are enormous threats to the region’s fishing industry, which is vital for the economies of our Pacific family,” Major General Winter said. “By tackling these shared maritime security challenges together with the FFA, our Pacific partners, and members of the Pacific Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group (Australia, the United States, New Zealand, and France), we are working together to protect ecosystems and livelihoods across the Pacific.”

The C27-J Spartan crew flew nine missions for the FFA from Palau, detecting and reporting over 110 suspicious vessels and helping locate one vessel of interest. HMAS Melville patrolled around 195,000 square kilometres of the FSM’s Exclusive Economic Zone, and reported seven suspicious vessels to the FFA, significantly contributing to the total amount of all surface unit contact reports. HMAS Melville’s Commanding Officer, Commander Paul Savage, said the vessel’s deployment to the FSM demonstrated Australia’s commitment to maintaining regional security alongside its regional partners.

“Australia and the FSM have a longstanding partnership in maritime security, and Melville’s crew was proud to patrol parts of the nation’s three million square kilometre Exclusive Economic Zone,” Commander Savage said.

Melville provided important maritime surveillance support to FSM while it awaits the arrival of the first of its two Guardian-class Patrol Boats to be handed over under the Pacific Maritime Security Program (PMSP). FSS Tosiwo Nakayama, named after FSM’s first President, was handed over in Perth on 11 March. The PMSP is Australia’s $2 billion, 30-year commitment to regional maritime security. Under the Program, Australia is progressively rolling out Guardian-class Patrol Boats across the region, replacing Pacific Patrol Boats that were provided between 1987 and 1997. An Australian Fisheries Management Authority officer also joined Melville’s crew, providing extensive knowledge of Pacific fisheries and regional legal frameworks. This enabled the quick identification of illegal fishing activity and provided actionable evidence to the FFA and regional partners.

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